Sunday, December 25, 2011

Book review: What a ride, by Rupert Guinness

I think the difficulty for Rupert Guinness (an incredibly talented wordsmith on this most gruelling of sports) is that in the past 25 years that he has covered Le Tour, thanks largely to his own impeccable efforts, Australian sporting fans have become all too familiar with it. No longer is this a totally foreign event raced by very few outside of continental Europe, it has become an Australian obsession each July. No longer are highlights packages wedged into unholy hours on television, but front and centre every night as Mum, Dad and the kids sit down for tea.

This book by Guinness are his perspectives, memories and hindsight reflections from a year in year out love affair he has had with the event since the mid-1980s. Guinness over this time has elevated himself not just in the eyes of the Australian cycling fan fraternity but in the eyes of the tour as a whole.

The book is actually more a memoir of Guinness' time as a cycling journalist, centred around the one race every year that everyone really cares about. The sophistication of his writing methods, connection to those in and around the peloton, and his courage in tackling stories front-on grow with each passing years description of what he got up to during July.

Because of our increasing familiarity with the tour, and its marathon rather than sprint character, we have all been granted time and space to become couch bound experts on just what each rider is doing, planning to do, or should have done. The stories in the book therefore are all too familiar and repetitive, and shed no further insight on what occurred in the race.

There are a couple of redeeming features that make the work worthwhile for the more passionate cycling fan to have a copy of it on their bookshelf. Firstly, Guinness does not just focus on the Australian riders who have become our staple diet. O'Grady, McEwan, Evans, Stephens and Anderson all receive pages of description on their heroics, but lesser known guys happy to have just been in the event in the first place such as Scott Sunderland, Allan Peiper, and Matt White are extolled also and provide the reader with a more rounded education of how Australia has grown to be a major force in providing talent to the tour.

Secondly, that the Australian sports journalism landscape is dominated by craftsperson's who have cut their teeth writing on football (be it any code) the tendency for them to miss the point of cycling stories or just describe them poorly is common. Guinness comes from this background also (Rugby Union) however his immersion in the sport of cycling has him better placed to write comment on difficult issues such as doping, and his rhetoric is enjoyable and far more enlightened than others. Two stars.

Note: The book finishes at the conclusion of 2010s tour, therefore does not include description of Cadel Evans' General Classification win in 2011.

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